When you enter a store or visit your local market to do your grocery shopping, you look around the wide array of foods, fruits or vegetables, what are the things you consider before you choose one product over the other?

Some products look so bold, colourful and very attractive, you cannot miss them and it is probably impossible not to pick one or two of them up to admire or buy outright including vegetables and fruits. We live in a society that has so many different fruits and vegetables all year round and yet the imported ones are almost more popular.

What determines the choices we make? Would it be the packaging, the presentation, country of origin, price, NAFDAC (National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control) Number or the nutritional value?

The way a product is designed is very important to the manufacturer because the product is meant to be attractive enough to us buyers at first glance to buy. Many years ago, a lady I knew was going to manufacture a product and I vividly remember a discussion about the packaging. At the discussion, the designer of the packaging had strongly advised her to have a bit of red in it because it would make her product more attractive. While, the inclusion of colour red may or may not currently be a selling point, so much goes into getting us consumers to buy. Sometime ago, I watched a television documentary that showed that some particular genres of music make women buy more in some stores.

You know that marketing is about meeting our needs and wants as a customer. Marketing has been defined as a business-wide function – it is not something that operates alone from other business activities; it is all-encompassing. Marketing is about understanding you as a customer and finding ways to provide products or services which customers demand in a manner that they are attracted to the products. Look at some of the advertisements on radio and especially television. Do you see the ones that market the foods that children are most attracted to?

On the other hand, nutrition is the intake of food, considered in relation to the body’s dietary needs. What are the body’s dietary needs? Protein, healthy fats, vitamins and carbohydrates. Good nutrition ought to be an adequate, well balanced diet that helps the body to grow, repair, heal, repel illnesses and infections and avoid weight related health issues. Poor nutrition on the other hand can lead to reduced immunity, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired physical and mental development, and reduced productivity.

So what am I driving at? When we buy, is there a competition between marketing and nutrition? When you pick up that product, will it be about how attractive or how nutritious? Would you look beyond the beautiful packaging and read the label?

Healthy Diet according to WHO Fact sheet N°394 updated September 2015 says, ‘Consuming a healthy diet throughout the life course helps prevent malnutrition in all its forms as well as a range of noncommunicable diseases and conditions. But the increased production of processed food, rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles have led to a shift in dietary patterns. People are now consuming more foods high in energy, fats, free sugars or salt/sodium, and many do not eat enough fruit, vegetables and dietary fibre such as whole grains.’

Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, author of Eat Drink Vote wrote that “The food industry spends billions of dollars a year to encourage people to buy their products, but foods marketed as ‘healthy’ particularly encourage sales and, therefore, greater calorie intake,” says Nestle. She explains that research shows that people will eat more of a food if they perceive it to be healthy. Eating too much of even healthy foods is a problem, but often these ‘healthy’ foods are anything but healthy. For instance, the flavor that you lose from taking the fat out of yogurt to make it “low fat” is often replaced with, you guessed it, sugar.

The secret to shopping once more is to read labels. Read the nutrition facts and the list of ingredients. You will learn for example, the kind of oil that is used, the quantity of sugar which by the way is written in other names on the same product, the quantity of salt, the protein content, colouring, the preservatives and so many other facts.

In all reading labels will make you appreciate that it is best to consume many more natural foods than the processed counterparts. For more on reading labels see previous post. Do yourself a favour, read labels!

So what forms your decision? Marketing or Nutrition?

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